the number of youngsters Arsene Wenger sent out against Stoke in the fourth
round of the FA Cup, a certain amount of criticism directed at the Arsenal boss
was to be expected.
have a number of tough games coming up and there have been accusations that by
resting some of his more senior players, thereby prioritising the Premier
League over the Cup, Wenger has devalued the competition.
knows his squad better than anyone else and if he feels he has to protect
certain players with such a busy schedule coming up, then he is well within his
rights to do so.
squad means a manager has the luxury of a choice - that's why clubs invest so
heavily not only in 11 players but squads of 20 or more top players - and the
only people Wenger has to answer to are his chairman and his board of
manager sends out a team that overtly does not try to win the game - and that
certainly was not the case on Sunday - you cannot question them over their team
not Wenger, whose sides this season have done so much to entertain and serve up
a decent brand of football.
increasingly having to look towards their squad players throughout the course
of a long season if they are to stand any chance at all of succeeding on more
than one front. It's getting to a situation whereby it's nearly impossible to
compete without doing so.
clearly understands this and having seen Premier League fixtures against Aston
Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool on the horizon, swiftly
followed by the small matter of a Champions League last-16 clash with Porto, he
knows he will not get to rest his best players any time soon.
the opportunity to do so presenting itself for the match against Stoke, he took
it didn't pay off and Arsenal's Cup campaign is over for another year, although
their exit may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise. Whether it is or not,
we'll have a better idea at the end of February, but if the Gunners are still
there or thereabouts in the Premier League race by then, one less competition
to worry about may well be seen as a bonus.
devaluing the Cup, Wenger's decision to use his squad as it should be has done
nothing of the sort. Indeed, if anything, Arsenal's exit has served to enrich
the competition this season and with the country's top three teams all now
having been bumped out, it's anyone's to win.
remain the favourites to retain their crown but the exits of Arsenal, Liverpool
and Manchester United have made it far more interesting and other teams will
have been given hope that they can progress this season.
can be included in that bracket. It may sound a flight of fancy, but the
Potters, with their physical brand of football that so many teams find difficult
to deal with, have what it takes to go all the way to Wembley this year.
Why not? If
Millwall can get there, so too can Stoke. Certainly, Tony Pulis will not be
resting any of his best players on the way - this year's competition has
presented him, and a host of other managers, with a great chance to seriously
improve their CVs.
- - -
Campbell made his return for Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium and despite the
defeat, it was as good a game as any for the former England man to return to
route one tactics suited Campbell, who isn't the quickest but enjoys physical
pass and move and have forwards who go short and spin are more likely to give
Sol headaches but if he is used wisely, as Wenger is sure to do, his signing
may yet turn out to represent a great bit of business.
have traditionally struggled in games against teams like Stoke but Campbell,
once properly bedded in and fully fit, will be able help out in those kinds of
Arsenal's most physically imposing centre-back was Philippe Senderos, but with
the Swiss now at Everton, the importance of Campbell is sure to be
play every game - don't expect him to start against Chelsea's Didier Drogba and
Nicolas Anelka if Wenger has other options available - but as long as he's up
against players who are not the most mobile, Sol will prove he can still make a
valuable contribution in the Premier League.